Can the DELTA help you to teach EAP?
by Gerald Kelly

(Please note, this article draws heavily on the DELTA syllabus document available from . I resisted the temptation to put huge chunks of text from that document in this paper, but you are advised to refer to the syllabus while reading this article, as many references are made to specific parts of it).

The Cambridge ESOL DELTA is perhaps the most widely-known diploma-level in-service training course for experienced teachers, alongside the Trinity Licentiate Diploma. Its development has led to a course which, most ELT teacher educators would agree, provides sound training, along with opportunities for reflection and development.

Recent years have seen a huge increase in the availability of MA TESOL/Applied Linguistics programmes (or similar titles), the majority of which do not have a teaching practice component. The global and evolving nature of ELT, together with the variety of modes of provision (e.g. private language schools, state colleges and universities) has led to a situation wherein nobody can say with any accuracy which course is going to help teachers advance their careers or gain more stable working conditions, given the enormous variety of possible teaching contexts.

Many teachers are tempted to take the “MA route” because it has more kudos than a diploma, and because, if it does not include a teaching practice element, it may be seen as easier to pass, or perhaps one takes less of a professional and financial risk in choosing this path. However, many employers still insist on teachers having the DELTA (or equivalent) and certain accreditation schemes still look for a percentage of teachers who are so qualified.

Within the field of EAP there can often be added resistance to the DELTA from teachers who have reached the stage where such a course would be appropriate for their career development. There can also be resistance from their more experienced, and occasionally DELTA-qualified colleagues. Such resistance usually centres round the relevance of what is perceived to be an EFL training course to an EAP teaching situation. It has been argued that the provision of university and college-based EAP requires teachers who are accomplished in this specific area of ELT, and that the DELTA casts its net too wide for the development needs of these teachers.

In the writer’s experience, however, many who level such criticisms at the course do so without reference to the syllabus, and often have an outdated or otherwise misinformed conception of what the course entails. Common beliefs include the idea that the course requires one to teach in a certain manner, or that communicative teaching techniques cannot meaningfully inform EAP teaching.

However, if we examine different units of the course, we can see that it does not preclude EAP teaching, and in fact can work with many different situations, encouraging, as it does, teachers to investigate their own circumstances in some depth.

The following quotes from ELT professionals illustrate a variety of viewpoints:

Reflections on the DELTA

  • “I learned more about teaching on the course than on any other I’ve ever attended”
  • “A Masters provides better training for someone teaching EAP, as to understand the needs and demands on students we need to experience those ourselves”
  • “The issue is really whether or not you need to make a choice. If you can do both, then great”
  • “I think there is still a core within EAP which can/should be approached from a ‘traditional’/communicative/ELT perspective”
  • “I’m in favour of the DELTA, but I don’t think the course alone is enough to enable someone to teach EAP - for that, you need some knowledge of academic conventions, research skills, etc”.
  • “I wasted students’ summers the first time I became involved in EAP by being scared by its ‘seriousness’. I think we should be looking towards creative ways of teaching which meet the students’ learning needs, and the DELTA can help”
  • “There is a tendency for people to do either the CELTA/DELTA route or an academic route (MA, PhD). We need both”

The last quote above again indicates the prevalent “choice of routes” attitude towards the DELTA. In fact there are other choices too. In my days as a CELTA tutor in London, I occasionally taught candidates with an MA TESOL (or similar) but with no teaching experience, who then came to us to take a practical course, as they found that employers would not give them a job without any practical experience.

The following quote perhaps shows why some teachers without so much practical experience can find themselves first in line when it comes to employment in EAP.

  • “Her first choice when recruiting are postgraduate-trained teachers who have completed - preferably recently - a Masters in TESOL with either a strong EAP or English for Specific Purposes (ESP) component. Not only will they have learned the theory of designing courses for learners who want to use English in a very specialised context, but they will also have first-hand experience of academic study” (Max de Lotbinière, Educ. Guardian Feb 2003, referring to Rebecca Hughes, Nottingham Uni).

Here another commentator expresses the commonly held view that EAP is fundamentally different from EFL, and that a different qualification is needed:

  • “EAP is so diverse and in many respects different from EFL and ESOL that it deserves more prominence in ELT: a separate recognised qualification would raise the status of the EAP specialism” (Mark Krzanowski, University of Hertfordshire, BALEAP PIMS reports, 2001)

One final quote from an EAP professional confirms the fundamental question:

  • “I don’t know whether the slant that is (now) taken focuses on EFL or EAP” (teacher had taken the old RSA DTEFLA many years ago)


The question therefore is whether or not the DELTA takes such a stance: my belief is that it sets out clearly to do the opposite. The following quote from the syllabus shows this:

“The specification does not set out a repertoire of prescribed procedures or techniques for language teaching”. (From ‘Rationale’ section of syllabus)

Any claims that there is a DELTA style of teaching, or that one cannot pass unless one teaches in a particular way are therefore immediately redundant.

Further quotes from the syllabus show that current practice is to be investigated, and that a wide variety of situations are envisaged; there is room for any teaching situation, whether it be General English teaching, EAP or more specific ESP situations:

(From ‘DELTA Aims’) [the course]…..offers candidates the opportunity to….examine their current practices and beliefs…..and……apply the results of their learning and reflection to their current professional practice and to circumstances beyond their present and previous teaching experience.

(From ‘DELTA Course Programmes’, point 2) …programmes are designed to enhance candidates’ understanding of ….the practice and principles of teaching and learning English in relation to a wide range of adult learners and their learning contexts.

Let us now turn to selected points from the syllabus overview (see DELTA programme link at the start of this article): (I will not here go through the entire document, but have instead chosen particular highlights which help me to illustrate my points).

In the Syllabus Overview, points 1.2 and 1.4 may mention ELT, but despite this, they still encompass application to EAP. Teachers of EAP still need to “describe formal features of English and English language use”. Also, with 1.4, we can say that language is still an important component of any course, even on a primarily content-based course which tries to attune students to the experience of studying at a university as well as improving their English.

Moving on to the 5 th unit of learning (Evaluation, Monitoring and Assessment), points 5.1 to 5.5 contain nothing which cannot apply to EAP. While point 5.5 (preparing candidates for specific tests and examinations) presumably is usually taken to refer to well-known exams such as FCE, CAE and CPE, it is useful to reflect here on how learning towards a specific goal can sometimes limit appreciation of the possible wider application of that learning.

If we now look at learning outcomes, I have chosen this one because it is more likely to give the impression that the DELTA is for EFL and not EAP. In Unit 4 (Working in the classroom), point 2 (Classroom management with adult learners), teachers are asked to “demonstrate their familiarity with an extensive range of classroom procedures and techniques …”. This does not suggest that the teacher needs to be able to enter the classroom on a unicycle whilst juggling fish (or any such misconception of the EFL teacher in action!), but teachers are asked (in point c) to “select from these procedures and techniques appropriately, and implement them effectively with specific groups of adult learners”.

Now turning to assessment, the basic components of the DELTA are the coursework (which includes teaching and accompanying assignments) the extended assignment and the exam. For “Language and Skills” assignments, teachers’ background essays should “draw on …experience gained in their own teaching”. Clearly, if they are teaching in an EAP environment, then that is where relevant experience has been gained. Teachers are also asked to “draw general and specific conclusions about their current and future practice in this area”. Throughout the assignments, teachers are encouraged to relate their work to their current teaching environment and their students’ needs. The commentary for lessons, for example, requires teachers to “link the learners’ needs, the content and approach of the lesson, and the reading and research in Part 1”. There is nothing here to exclude EAP, and in fact there is ample opportunity and encouragement for teachers to explore their work in great detail. Similarly, the “Resources and Materials”, “Course Planning” and “Extended” assignments again give teachers the green light to really look into their own work, whether or not the teaching environment is general or specific.

I found that in only one area of the DELTA is there anything which might put the teacher of EAP at any kind of disadvantage. This is in the third part of the exam, wherein teachers will be presented with published material. In view of the wide variety of teaching contexts within which teachers taking the DELTA may find themselves, the choice made by those setting the exam is likely to be general, by which I mean material taken from a coursebook aimed at the teaching of general English (rather than for any specific purpose, such as academia). However, even here, where the teacher cannot make the choice of material to be looked at, they may still comment on its usefulness (or otherwise) for a teaching context with which they are familiar.

In conclusion, therefore, despite the misgivings of some working in EAP, I feel that the DELTA is a perfectly suitable course for those wishing to develop their teaching and hence (employers willing) have the opportunity to further and develop their careers. Unfortunately, this view is not necessarily held by all employers and/or teachers, and one occasionally finds the slightly odd (to me) situation wherein people teaching EAP may have entered the profession through the academic route, and may not have any direct experience of the DELTA, or worse, will be actively critical of a course which aims simply to help teachers improve. The most extreme case of this I have come across is an experienced EAP teacher who had never heard of the DELTA, and had to ask what it trains people for.

Both DELTA and MA courses, to my mind, can both provide excellent training, and can both help teachers to become better at what they do. They should not be seen as alternatives when teachers or managers are considering training needs, but can complement each other. However, I would conclude that experience shows that most MA courses will not offer teachers the kind of intensive practical development that the DELTA generally provides.


Gerald Kelly is a Senior Lecturer at the English Language Centre, Northumbria University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. He is the author of "How to Teach Pronunciation" (Longman, 2000). He has been teaching since 1986 and teacher-training since 1991.

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